When people ask me where to find the best burger in San Diego, they have no idea that they are about to hear a diatribe on the differences that exist within the burger universe. You can’t compare an In-N-Out burger with one from Flemings Steakhouse. That’s comparing apples and oranges that are, in this case, dripping with delicious saturated fats and topped with cheese.

In my humble, burger-loving opinion, there are three basic burger categories: fast food, counter service or bar burgers (like Rocky’s or The Balboa), and “fancy” burgers.

Fancy burgers can dressed up with everything from truffles to gourmet cheese, heirloom tomatoes to quail egg. And lately, the fancy burger category has been taken to new heights with the emergence of the dry aged burger.

So, if you’re wondering where to get the best fancy-category-dry-aged masterpiece in San Diego County, I have a few suggestions on places to start.

Juniper & Ivy In-N-Haute Burger

Recreating the iconic In-N-Out burger with a gourmet twist is a daunting task. Executive Chef Anthony Wells did so with shocking success, presenting a burger with similar flavors to those found in a Double Double Animal Style, but made with arguably superior ingredients.

Two beef patties are made from meat sourced from Flannery Beef in San Rafael, CA, which is then dry aged 28 days. The onions are local and are sous vide with mustard until tender and then tossed on the grill. The pickles are house-made with local cucumbers, and the french fries involve a two day prep process and are served with a side of housemade kimchi ketchup.

“Besides making the overall product absolutely delicious, we decided on using dry-aged beef in our burger because it fit with our identity,” explained Chef Wells, who talked about the profound labor of love this drive-thru recreation involved. “At Juniper & Ivy, we try to straddle the line between familiar and unique. We want to take things that diners might be used to, but use only the best ingredients and our signature J&I creativity to create something that is on another level.”

In another nod to In-N-Out, this burger is a “secret menu item” at Juniper & Ivy, available only upon request by in-the-know patrons.

Try it at Juniper & Ivy in Little Italy

Photo by Jim Sullivan
Photo by Jim Sullivan

Eureka! 28 Day Dry Aged Burger

At Eureka!, the burgers are made using beef from carrot-fed Angus from Santa Carota, a family farm in Bakersfield, California. The result is meat that is naturally sweeter thanks to the carrots, which also allow more moisture to be retained in the patty than would be present in meat from a standard grain fed cow.

You can taste the difference in the 28-day dry aged patty, which doesn’t taste like carrots, but is juicy and packed with rich, meaty flavor.

The burger comes layered with mushrooms, caramelized onions, smoked mozzarella and garlic aioli on a challah poppy bun from Turano Baking Company. The burger is an impressive offering for a casual restaurant chain.

Try it at Eureka! in Carlsbad

The Park 101 Burger

Another off-menu special, the Park 101 Burger sets itself apart from burger to bun.

“Dry aging increases the tenderness and flavor profile of the meat and it gives it another dimension that travels through your taste palate,” explained Chef Quinnton “Q” Austin of his 35-day dry aged Meyers beef. “Dry age is better because its flavors are unmatched. The longer its ages the better it holds, like a fine wine.”

Kolache, a sweet and soft dough usually reserved for desserts, is used for the buns, which are specially baked by Olive Bakery in Mission Beach. The avocado, tomato, and lettuce burger toppings are all locally sourced, usually from the Carlsbad Farmers Market, and the secret sauce is a classic combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, sugar, a “dab” of hot sauce, pepper, garlic, and pickles.

Try it at Park 101 in Carlsbad

Fort Oak Hearth Grilled Dry Aged Burger

As with most of Fort Oak’s menu, their dry aged burger is wood grilled.

The beef is a blend of chuck and brisket that is dry aged for 14-21 days, and instead of a lot of burger toppings, Chef Brad Wise brings in traditional flavors through scratch-made sauces.

Truffle onion jam starts with Temecula sweet onions that are caramelized, then mixed with red onion, mustard seed, coriander seed, salt, sugar, red wine vinegar, truffle oil and water and cooked down to a jam consistency.

Fried egg aioli starts with frying eggs and shallot with garlic together in bacon fat, then blending it with champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard and canola oil.

The burger comes slathered in these sauces and topped with aged cheddar on a house-made potato bun. It is available on the Fort Oak bar menu. (Pro tip: score a $2 discount during happy hour from 3-6pm Monday through Friday).

Try it at Fort Oak in Mission Hills

Photo Credit: James Tran
Photo Credit: James Tran
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